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Statement On Genetic Modification

Fonterra Co-operative Group Ltd believes the responsible use of genetic modification must be allowed in New Zealand, CEO Craig Norgate said today. This does not mean that we wish to use genetically modified ingredients in our products.

“Fonterra must be allowed to conduct research in New Zealand in a responsible manner. We simply must have the ability to make sensible choices about the commercial application of genetically-modified organisms in the future. Failure to conduct this research ourselves means that others will make those choices for us. We must do this in a way that does not put traditional or organic farming at risk. The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification is the product of some of the best minds in New Zealand and on balance it is correct. We need to get in behind it and make progress, not shelve it,” Mr Norgate said.

Mr Norgate said the Royal Commission had been a valuable forum for New Zealand to consider and assess the facts on this issue, and that the dairy industry had put a lot of effort into making a reasoned case to the Commission. “We didn’t agree with every element of the Royal Commission Report but we see it as a very sound basis for the development of public policy on the issue,” he said.

“The reality every New Zealander should understand is that our economy is overwhelmingly dependent on biological products, including dairy products, meat, wool, fish, and fruit and vegetables. Maintaining and enhancing New Zealanders’ living standards depends on the country maintaining and enhancing the competitiveness of these key industries. Of them, the dairy industry is the largest and one of New Zealand’s few genuinely multinational exporters.

“The world we operate in is currently in a biotechnological revolution and genetic modification is a key part of that. The pace of change is rapid and accelerating and the biological industries on which the New Zealand economy depends will be affected in far-reaching ways. If experience with other technological advances is any guide, the impact will most probably be felt sooner than we anticipate. In fact, we are already feeling the impact, with genetic modification in wide use in crops overseas, potentially threatening our pastoral advantage.

“In this context, Fonterra believes that the Government must ensure that the responsible use of genetic modification is permitted. We have an extraordinary pool of world-class scientific knowledge and talent, and our international competitors would welcome us handicapping that talent with a moratorium. It is essential that the full spectrum of activities remain open, including release. Closing off any, even for a short period, sends a disturbing and unsettling message to the scientific community and investors in biosciences.

“We also need to ensure that, in future, we have the option of commercialising discoveries and developments in a responsible way according to the needs and wishes of our customers. It is just as vital to ensure that New Zealand offers an environment where the best New Zealand and global scientists are able to study and research. This is needed not only to ensure New Zealand benefits from any intellectual property from their research into genetic modification, but also to ensure we have a lively scientific community in this country. Every departure of a top scientist leads to the departure of many of his or her junior colleagues and students.

“The risk of research, development and release of genetically-modified organisms is often negligible and/or manageable. In cases where the risk is not negligible and/or manageable, there should of course be tight restrictions. Regulation should be tailored to the level of risk that use of a particular organism involves. The regulatory systems need to recognise soundly-based public concerns, manage risks, and be realistic, cost-effective and timely.

“The Royal Commission found that the ERMA process was robust enough to handle risks to our environment and while there are technical issues associated with that process, which we would like to have addressed in the future, we believe it is a process we can live with commercially. The HSNO Act requires that Maori interests be considered and Treaty of Waitangi principles be taken into account, as is appropriate for New Zealand.

“Given this background, any suggestion the current across-the-board moratorium could be extended is deeply alarming to Fonterra. Should the moratorium be extended, it would be impossible for us to remain competitive with developments in genetic modification without moving our research operations offshore.

“A move overseas would have a negative impact on our business. Worse, it would have an even more negative impact on New Zealand’s scientific community as our scientists led their junior colleagues and students offshore. If the concept of a Knowledge Society is to have meaning in a New Zealand context, it must include biotechnology in all its forms.”

END

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